Fame (1980 film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alan Parker
Produced by
Written by Christopher Gore
Music by Michael Gore
Cinematography Michael Seresin
Edited by Gerry Hambling
Distributed by
Box office $21.2 million[3]

Fame is a 1980 American teen musical drama film directed by Alan Parker, and written by Christopher Gore. The film follows a group of students during their studies at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City; the story is split into sections corresponding to their auditions, and their freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years.

Producer David De Silva conceived the idea in 1976, and commissioned Gore to begin work on a script that would focus on the lives of young students attending the High School of Performing Arts. The script, then known as Hot Lunch, became the subject of a bidding war among a host of established film studios before Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired the film rights. After the release of his previous film Midnight Express (1978), Parker decided to helm the project, as he wanted to shoot his next film in the United States. Parker and Gore rewrote the script, aiming for a more dramatic and darker tone. Parker encountered difficulties with the New York Board of Education, whose members criticized the script's subject matter and forbade him from filming in the actual school, and U.S. labor unions which objected to the British crew members involved with the film. Principal photography commenced in July 1979 and concluded after 91 days, on a budget of $8.5 million; the film was shot on location in New York City.

Upon release, Fame received mixed reviews from mainstream film critics, but was a box office success, grossing $21.2 million during its domestic theatrical run. The film received six Academy Award nominations, and won two for Best Original Song (for its title song "Fame") and Best Original Score. The success of the film spawned a media franchise that included television series, stage musicals and a 2009 remake.



In New York City, a group of young, vibrant teenagers audition to study at the High School of Performing Arts. In the drama department, Montgomery MacNeil forgets his lines while auditioning, and Doris Finsecker is unable to control her nerves, due to the presence of her mother, who insists that she should sing during her audition. In the music department, Bruno Martelli is an aspiring keyboardist, whose electronic equipment horrifies Mr. Shorofsky, a conservative music teacher. In the dance department, Lisa Monroe is an aspiring dancer, and Coco Hernandez is confident that she will be accepted in all three departments because of her all-around talent. After attempting to audition for both the music and dance departments, Ralph Garci succeeds with his audition for the drama department. Leroy Johnson goes to the school, performing as part of a dance routine for an auditioning friend, but the dance teachers are more impressed by his talents than hers.

Freshman year

The students learn on the first day of classes that academics are weighed equally with performance. Doris, overwhelmed by the energy and spontaneity in the lunchroom, flees and meets Montgomery. As the year progresses, Coco tries to convince Bruno to book performing gigs with her. Doris and Montgomery become friends, and Doris worries that she is too ordinary against the colorful personalities of the other students. Leroy and his English teacher, Mrs. Sherwood, clash over his refusal to do homework; it is later revealed that Leroy is illiterate and ashamed to admit it. Bruno and his father argue over Bruno's reluctance to play his electronic music publicly. Miss Berg, the school's dance teacher, warns Lisa that she is not working hard enough. Michael, a graduating senior, wins a prestigious scholarship and tells Doris that the William Morris Agency wants to send him out for auditions for television pilots.

Sophomore year

A new student, Hilary van Doren, joins the school's Dance department and seduces Leroy. Bruno and Mr. Shorofsky debate the merits of traditional orchestras versus synthesized instruments. Bruno's father plays his music (the title song) outside the school, inspiring the student body to dance in the streets. As an acting exercise, the students are asked to divulge a painful memory. Montgomery discusses discovering his homosexuality, in the process coming out to the school; Doris relates her humiliation at being forced by her stage mother to sing at a child's birthday party; and Ralph tells of learning about the death of Freddie Prinze. Miss Berg drops Lisa from the dance program, and after seemingly considering suicide in a New York City Subway station, Lisa drops her dance clothes on the subway tracks and decides to join the drama department.

Junior year

Ralph and Doris discover their mutual attraction, but their growing intimacy leaves Montgomery feeling excluded. Hilary brings Leroy home, much to the shock of her father and stepmother. Ralph's young sister is attacked by a junkie and Ralph lashes out at his mother's attempts to comfort the child by taking her to the local Catholic church, instead of to a doctor. Doris begins to question her Jewish upbringing, changing her name to "Dominique DuPont" and straining the relationship with her mother. During a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the 8th Street Playhouse, Ralph encourages Doris to smoke marijuana. Intoxicated, Doris takes part in the stage show during the "Time Warp" sequence. The next day, she realizes that as an actress she can put on any personality she wants, but is sobered upon running into Michael, who is struggling as an actor and waiting tables.

Senior year

Ralph follows in the footsteps of his idol Freddie Prinze and performs stand-up comedy at Catch a Rising Star, where he garners some initial success. He falls into a hard-party lifestyle, which upsets Doris. Given a prime spot at a comedy club, he bombs after clashing with both Doris and Montgomery over his new lifestyle. Disgusted with himself, he believes his career is over, but Montgomery comforts him by telling him that failure is a part of the entertainment business. Hilary is now pregnant with Leroy's child, but secretly decides to get an abortion, drop out of school and move to San Francisco, California, where she has been offered a place with the city's ballet company. Coco is approached in a diner by a man claiming to be a director; she naïvely goes to his apartment for a "screen test", but discovers that he is really an amateur pornographic film director. He manipulates her into taking her shirt off, as he films her sobbing. Leroy is offered a spot in Alvin Ailey's dance company, but to be accepted he must graduate. He finds Mrs. Sherwood outside her husband's hospital room and lashes out at her for giving him a failing grade. As the two argue, he realizes that Mrs. Sherwood has problems of her own; chagrined, he comforts her. At graduation, the student body performs the finale, "I Sing the Body Electric". The opening lines are sung by Lisa, Coco, and Montgomery; intercut with the performance are scenes of Leroy dancing and Bruno playing with a rock band, finally sharing his music with others.


Other characters



In 1976, talent manager David De Silva attended a stage production of A Chorus Line, and noticed that one of the musical numbers, "Nothing", had made a reference to the New York High School of Performing Arts (or “PA,” as it is colloquially known).[4] He then came up with the idea of a making a film based on the school and its students.[5] De Silva travelled to Florida, where he met playwright Christopher Gore and discussed working on a project titled Hot Lunch.[5] De Silva paid Gore $5,000 to begin work on a draft script and provided him with story ideas involving the plot and characters.[5] Once the draft script was completed, De Silva and Gore signed with the Creative Artists Agency to sell the script.[5] The script for Hot Lunch became the subject of a bidding war among a host of established film studios before De Silva decided to take the project to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), which acquired the film rights for $400,000.[1]

"It's a very strange thing to grow up to be a performer, to expose yourself at a time when growing up is difficult enough anyway. It involves a great deal of courage and the risk of enormous pain. Fame is a film which shows how kids prepare themselves for failure as well as success."

—Alan Parker, director[6]

Hot Lunch was among several scripts that was offered to Alan Parker, following the release of his previous film Midnight Express (1978).[1][4] The director and his colleague, producer Alan Marshall, agreed to take on the project, as Parker was interested in making his next film in the United States. They met with De Silva in Manhattan, New York, where Parker agreed to direct the film, on the conditions that he able to write his own draft script, and have Marshall attached as a co-producer.[4] De Silva and Parker agreed that Gore would receive sole screenwriting credit, regardless of any changes that Parker made to the script.[5] After visiting the Performing Arts, Parker invited Gore to London, England, where they began work on a second draft.[1] The new script for Hot Lunch became significantly darker than what De Silva had originally intended. De Silva said, "That was one of our areas we disagreed on at times. I was really motivated and interested in the joy of what the school represented for these kids, and [Parker] was really much more interested in where the pain was in going to the school, and so we had our little conflicts based on that area."[5]

Parker later moved to Greenwich, Connecticut so that he could begin pre-production work on the film. He and Marshall set up production offices at the Paramount Building in Manhattan. While working on the script, Parker interracted with many of the young Performing Arts students. He said, "Consequently I spent a lot of time hanging out with the kids over the months: gradually incorporating many of their stories into my new draft of the screenplay ... The lunch-room at PA was my favorite place to hang out, talk and listen to the kids: their lives a litany of humiliation and rejection at cattle calls; their healing cruciate ligaments, calloused finger pads, latest crushes and impending nervous breakdowns."[4] Several students invited Parker to attend to attend a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) at the 8th Street Playhouse. Parker attended a weekend screening with Marshall, and the enthusiastic crowd inspired him to write a similar scene for the film, during which the character Doris Finsecker breaks out of her shell.[4][7] Parker reflected, "I watched them re-enact the whole show, dressed as the movie's characters — squirting water pistols in the air when it rained; answering back to the screen from an unwritten audience created script, culminating with them jumping on stage to join in the 'Time Warp' dance routine, with the actors on the screen flickering behind them. It was great spontaneous theater that I had to include in the film."[4]

During filming, Parker noticed that a pornographic film showing on 42nd Street was titled Hot Lunch. He was informed that the title, "in some quarters ... was New York slang for oral sex."[4] The 171-page draft script was then labeled "Title". In response, MGM offered several working titles, including Neon Dreams, Break a Leg, Spotlight, Shooting Stars, Stagestruck, Pizzazz and Razzle Dazzle. On July 10, 1979, Parker gave the film its final title, Fame, naming it after the 1975 song performed by David Bowie.[1][4]


Although Parker had promised to hold auditions for the Performing Arts students, the school was initially instructed by the Board of Education to prevent their students from being in the film, claiming that the production would take time away from their studies.[4] It was later announced that filming would occur during the summer holiday when the students were not attending school. With the approval of the Parent-Teacher Association, Parker printed casting call advertisements that were distributed at both the High School of Performing Arts and the High School of Music & Art,[1] where Richard Klein presided as a principal for both schools.[8]

Parker and casting directors Margery Simkin and Howard Feuer spent four months of the film's pre-production searching for young performers to appear in the film. They held an open casting call at the Diplomat Hotel on 43rd Street, Manhattan, New York, where more than 2,000 people auditioned for various roles in the film.[4] Of the many students that Parker met at the Performing Arts, only Laura Dean, who plays Lisa Monroe, was cast in a principle role while other students were cast as extras.[4] Parker said, "Even if someone didn't make it to the principal cast I could move him or her to the background, handpicking everyone seen in the film. The auditions scenes in the film allowed me the opportunity to use many of the more eccentric performers ..."[4] Two teachers from the Performing Arts school were cast in supporting roles; drama teacher Jim Moody was cast as Mr. Farell, and music teacher Jonathan Strasser was cast as a conductor who leads an orchestra through Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's composition Eine kleine Nachtmusik in a major scene.[8] Music composer and actor Albert Hague secured the role of Performing Arts music teacher Mr. Shorofsky, as Parker wanted an actual veteran musician to play the part.[9]

Irene Cara was a former student of the Performing Arts, but was forced to drop out from the school in order to support her family. She said, "We were a struggling lower middle-class family, and we needed the income. Doing the film made up for that a little. It felt like my one year at the school."[10] Parker was not thoroughly impressed with Cara's audition, and asked her to work with the film's music composer, Michael Gore, during the recording sessions. Of Cara's musical performance, Parker said, "... like me [Gore] was pleasantly surprised how good she was — her great voice was almost a bonus as we had prepared to work with a lot less."[4] Gene Anthony Ray, who plays Leroy Johnson, was also a Performing Arts student but was expelled for disruptive behavior.[11] Simkin had found Ray breakdancing on a street corner in Harlem before asking him to audition for a possible role in the film.[4]

Lee Curreri, who plays Bruno Martelli, learned of the production while attending the Manhattan School of Music. "They sent a casting agent to every music school in New York, so I auditioned there," he said.[12] During his audition, Paul McCrane, who plays Montgomery McNeil, performed an original song he had written, "Is It OK If I Call You Mine?". The song impressed Parker, who decided to include it in the film.[1][4] Barry Miller, the son of veteran actor and filmmaker Sidney Miller, was cast as Ralph Garci, an aspiring actor and standup comic of Puerto Rican descent.[13]

Maureen Teefy, an established actress of Irish descent, was cast as Doris Finsecker, a shy and uptight Jewish girl. Parker said, "I suppose I was trying to avoid the NY Jewish stereotype, as [Teefy] was Irish from Minneapolis and no Jewish princess."[4] On securing the role, Teefy said, "I was only out of Juilliard for a year, and I had done a few movies (1941, Scavenger Hunt), and I auditioned, but I had no idea what I was auditioning for. [Parker] just liked my vulnerability."[14] De Silva disagreed with Teefy's casting: "... I'd envisioned [Doris] as a 16-or 17-year-old Barbra Streisand from Brooklyn, and when [Parker] cast this Irish actress that was a trouble ... that was my only reservation; I really had envisioned she was a young Barbra Streisand, a Jewish girl."[5] Parker and the casting department had difficulty finding an actress for the role of Hilary Van Doren. The role ultimately went to Antonia Franceschi, who had previously acted as a background dancer in the musical Grease (1978).[15] Franceschi was cast as Hilary based on the strength of her audition.[4] Fame also marked the film debut of Meg Tilly, who appears as one of the film's nineteen "principal dancers". It also marks the first credited role for Peter Rafelson, the son of filmmaker Bob Rafelson, who appears as a "principal musician and vocalist".[1]


"Our film I hope will be a microcosm of New York. It's the glamour of the Great White Way of Broadway and the squalor of 42nd Street; the dream of instant success and the constant reminder of failure; the fine line between a Julliard [sic] scholarship and dancing topless at the Metropole. It's George M. Cohan and the City Ballet. Lieber & Stoller and Vivaldi. It's New York: vulgar and beautiful. A dozen races pitching in each having their own shot at the American Dream."

—An excerpt from Parker's pre-production letter to the crew members of Fame.[4][16]

Principal photography began on July 9, 1979 for a scheduled eighteen-week shoot, on a budget of $8.5 million.[4][6] Although Parker initially expressed interest in filming in New York, he described shooting the film as a less than pleasurable experience. He also noted that the production was plagued with intense weather conditions: "It was one of the hottest summers on record, the tar melted under your feet as you crossed the New York streets and our shirts were constantly hanging from our bodies, ringing wet."[4]

Parker noticed the young cast's enthusiasm and energy during filming, but felt that most of the performers were "extremely self-obsessed, capricious and irritating to work with".[4] He found Irene Cara and Barry Miller to be the most difficult of the cast: "... Irene, because she 'fluctuated' the most being more comfortable in a recording studio, and Barry because he appeared to be full of fear and hidden demons. This manifested itself in a surly, bratty awkwardness that drove the crew nuts. There were three scenes where Barry had to break down and each one was traumatic."[4] Miller later described Parker as "a real piss-and-vinegar English bloke. We hated each other. But he made me a star, for a brief time anyway."[13]

On filming the dance sequences choreographed by Louis Falco, Parker said, "I would ask for small changes for the camera and [Falco] would immediately adjust the work, often involving thirty dancers. Unlike the old MGM masters, or more recent masters like Bob Fosse for that matter, we didn’t always choreograph the camera movements for the numbers. We’d been blessed with a wonderful group of kids and I didn’t want to inhibit them, or lose their spirit, by making them hit marks. I wanted it to appear that no outside hands were at work to hinder the naturalism."[4]

The production reunited Parker with many of his past collaborators, including Marshall, director of photography Michael Seresin, camera operator John Stanier, production designer Geoffrey Kirkland and editor Gerry Hambling. During filming, the crew and several cast members objected to Seresin and Stanier's European style of single-source, diffused lighting, which involved the use of incense burners.[6] As a result, representatives of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE, Local 644 Camera Union) halted the production, and forbade Parker from using smoke due to the noxious atmosphere it created.[4][6] Parker was later challenged by U.S. labor unions which objected to the British crew members working on the film.[1] In order to gain work permits for the British crew members, Parker convinced the U.S. unions to agree to a "standby" arrangement, in which local laborers could work on the set as backups. This resulted in the production, according to Parker, being largely overstaffed.[1][4][6] The director also established a reciprocal agreement, by which an American cinematographer would be hired for a future British production.[1]

The filmmakers had originally planned to shoot the film at the actual High School of Performing Arts on 120 West 46th Street, but were denied by New York City's Board of Education over the content of the script.[1][4][8] Parker then met with Nancy Littlefield, the head of the New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, requesting that he be able to speak with members of the Board after hearing their original rejection.[8] Parker and Marshall met with the board members who explained that they had issues with the script's profanity, sexual content and depictions of drug use.[1][4] Parker had also been criticized for his depiction of Turkish prisons in Midnight Express;[1][4] a board member stated to the director, "Mr. Parker, I can't risk you doing for New York High Schools the same thing you did for the reputations of Turkish prisons in your last film (Midnight Express)."[4] The school's principal, Richard Klein, had minor concerns over a few details in the script, but overall had given Parker and Marshall his blessing, and had no objections to the school building being used for actual filming. However, the weight of the decision already made by the Board meant that he had to concede to the majority ruling.[8]

After the filmmakers expressed interest in moving the production to Chicago, Illinois,[17] Littlefield reviewed abandoned-city properties and discovered two unused schools outside of the board's jurisdiction:[1] Haaren High School—located on 10th Avenue between 58th Street and 59th Street in Hell's Kitchen—and Performance Space 122 (P.S. 122)—located on 150 1st Avenue at East 9th Street in the East Village.[4] Both schools were converted as replacements and used for all the interior scenes.[4] MGM spent approximately $200,000 transforming Haaren High into a massive sound stage, with carpentry shops and offices for the studio's executives. The location was used to film's finale, a graduation ceremony, where students perform "I Sing the Body Electric"; the sequence was filmed over the course of four days, and involved 400 extras, and 150 student musicians.[7] The school, which now houses the John Jay College of Criminal Justice,[18] remained a production house after the film was completed.[1]

The exterior of the school was shot using the left wing of the then-abandoned Church of Saint Mary the Virgin building almost directly opposite the real school on West 46th Street in Times Square.[19] The The Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screening sequence was filmed at the 8th Playhouse, which was located on 52 West 8th Street, New York. Sal Piro, president of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club, appears as an emcee at the screening.[4] Parker later hired Steadicam inventor and operator Garrett Brown to film Doris and Ralph's dialogue scene in a New York City Subway station.[4] Montgomery MacNeil's apartment was located on 1564 Broadway and West 46th Street, Manhattan.[19]

The 46th Street dance sequence was filmed over the course of three days, using eight different choreographed routines with 150 student background actors and 50 professional dancers. The dancers performed to the Donna Summer song "Hot Stuff", as the film's theme song, "Fame", had not yet been written.[1][4] Before the sequence could be filmed, Stanier was forced to return to London for personal reasons. Without a replacement camera operator, Seresin manned the camera for several hours before representatives of IATSE visited the set, and warned Parker that a cinematographer was forbidden to operate a camera; they threatened to shut down the production permanently if he did not hire an operator from their union.[1][4] Parker reflected, "Within an hour we had resumed filming with a cocky, captious New Yorker as replacement operator, who managed to throw spanners into every shot, impeding our momentum, but we soldiered on."[4]

The following day, the New York Police Department had been overwhelmed with traffic blockages and demanded that the production take a 4:00 p.m. curfew.[1][4] Parker recalled, "I have a nightmare memory of sitting on an aluminium camera box on the 46th street sidewalk, no longer angry, but full of fear, looking at the traffic jam we had caused as far as the Hudson River, wondering how the hell I was ever going to complete the scene."[4] In addition, the dancers went on strike, and their union leaders demanded extra "stunt" pay for performing on the roofs of taxicabs.[1][6] Parker was able to complete the sequence by the third day.[4] Filming concluded after 91 days.[4][6]


Parker originally approached music composer and producer Giorgio Moroder, who had previously scored Midnight Express. Moroder was unable to commit to the film's production, as he was busy producing an album for Donna Summer. Parker then approached Jeff Lynne, the lead performer of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), who declined the director's offer.[4] Composer Michael Gore was hired a "music coordinator", and paired with lyricist Dean Pitchford to write five original songs for the film.[4] Parker did not want to stage the film's musical numbers, opting to be as genuine, realistic and authentic as possible. Many of the many musical numbers were performed practically on set, as Parker wanted to avoid dubbing during post-production.[4] During filming, the "Hot Lunch" musical number was heavily improvised. Parker reflected, "This song evolved from an all day session involving groups of kids from all disciplines, as we cobbled together the song with everyone chipping in their contributions."[4] The film's assistant director, Robert F. Colesberry, improvised the line, "If it's blue it must be stew, if it's yellow, then it's Jello."[4]

The filming of the 46th Street dance sequence inspired Gore to write an original song that would carry the film's new title Fame. Gore was also inspired by the music of Donna Summer, particularly "Hot Stuff", which was frequently played during the three days of filming the sequence.[4] Gore and Pitchford spent one month writing the lyrics of the song. Pitchford improvised the line "I'm gonna live forever", inspired a line of dialogue spoken in the 1964 play Dylan. "The rest of the song took forever to write," he said. "It was literally a month of six days, seven days a week, six hours a day of carving every one of those verses."[20][21] Parker initially disliked the lyrics for the song, stating, "As brilliant a musician and pianist as [Gore] is, his singing voice is more Noel Coward than Otis Redding and I consequently thought the new song was pretty awful ..."[4] During the recording sessions, Luther Vandross acted as the song's contractor, in charge of the backup vocals. He improvised the backup line "Remember, remember, remember", and performed it with backup vocalists Vivian Cherry and Vicki Sue Robinson. The song was later incorporated into the filmed dance sequence during post-production.[4]

Parker wanted the film to end with a huge musical number that would showcase every performer, integrating the students, teachers and parents. While working on the draft script during pre-production, he was partially inspired by the ELO song, "Eldorado".[4] Parker then turned to Gore and Pitchford, requesting that they write a song would combine the film's three musical elements—gospel, rock and classical.[7] The resulting song "I Sing the Body Electric", was named by Pitchford after the same-titled poem from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" collection.[4][21]


Fame first premiered at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City on May 12, 1980. Proceeds from the premiere were given to the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), a non-profit organization focused on the city's renewal and growth.[1][8] MGM, which released Fame through United Artists, gave the film a "platform release" release; the film opened in limited release, in New York, Toronto and Los Angeles on May 16, 1980.[1][8] The limited three-city release date coincided with the film's premiere at the Cinerama Dome Theatre in Hollywood, California. Profits from the Cinerama Dome screening were donated to the Performing Arts department at the University of California.[1] MGM stated that the limited theatrical run was meant to generate strong word-of-mouth support from audiences and mainstream film critics. The studio was especially concerned with the film's cast of then-unknown actors; Richard Kahn, the senior vice president of marketing for MGM said, "The major challenge we have here is that Fame is a film without any stars. We're dealing with that by making the music itself the star."[8] MGM spent more than $2 million on the film's advertising campaign, which placed emphasis on the film's music. The studio also allowed theatre chains to give out free tickets for special screenings.[1][8] Fame officially opened in wide release in North America on June 20, 1980.[1][8]

Box office

Fame grossed $118,169 during its first three days of release in New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. The film earned an additional $335,539 after eleven days. By the end of its limited run, the film had grossed $665,806.[1] Upon wide release, Fame went on to gross $21,202,829 during its domestic theatrical run,[3] becoming the thirty-second highest-grossing film of 1980.[22]

Critical response

The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes sampled 29 reviews, and gave Fame a score of 83%, with an average score of 7.2 out of 10.[23] Initial reactions among film critics were mixed.[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, writing, "When the kids perform, the movie sings, but their fictionalized personal stories are melodramatic drivel."[24] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader wrote, "The film is cut at such a frenzied pitch that it's often possible to believe (mistakenly) that something significant is going on."[25] Variety magazine wrote, "The great strength of the film is in the school scenes – when it wanders away from the scholastic side as it does with increasing frequency as the overlong feature moves along, it loses dramatic intensity and slows the pace."[26] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three-and-a-half stars out of four writing, "Fame is a genuine treasure, moving and entertaining, a movie that understands being a teen-ager as well as Breaking Away did, but studies its characters in a completely different milieu. It's the other side of the coin: A big-city, aggressive, cranked-up movie to play against the quieter traditions of Breaking Away's small Indiana college town."[27] William Gallagher, in his review for the BBC, wrote, "Alan Parker manages to make this a fairly horrible story even while it remains entertaining. You come away from it with all your preconceptions about the glamour of showbusiness wiped away and you can't help but admire the characters who get through."[28]


Soundtrack album by Michael Gore
Released 1980
Genre Disco
Label RSO
Producer Michael Gore
Singles from Fame
  1. "Fame"
    Released: June 1980 (US), May 1982 (UK)
  2. "Out Here on My Own"
    Released: June 1980 (US), September 1982 (UK)

The motion picture soundtrack album for Fame was released by the record label RSO Records on May 16, 1980.[29] It features nine songs—all of which appear in various scenes in the film. In his review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine awarded the album five stars out of five and wrote, "Yes, the production techniques often do sound dated ... but the music by Michael Gore is dynamic, varied, and alive, sung with real passion and vigor, and it still retains its essential spark 23 years after it was a pop culture phenomenon."[30]

In the United States, the title song "Fame" was released as a single, and reached number 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.[31] The single was not a hit in the United Kingdom until 1982, where it was released in May to coincide with the UK release of the television series.[20] The single entered the UK Singles Chart on July 3, 1982, debuting at number 51. The following week, it rose to number four before peaking at the top position of the U.K. charts on July 17, where it stayed for 3 weeks.[32] The song spent a total of 16 weeks on the chart and became the 2nd biggest selling single in the United Kingdom of 1982.[32] The song "Out Here On My Own", also performed by Cara, was released as a follow-up to the largely successful "Fame". In North America, the song reached number 19 on the Billboard 100 charts. It peaked at number 58 during its three weeks on the UK Singles Chart.[33]

No. TitleWriter(s)Original artist Length
1. "Fame"  Michael Gore, Dean PitchfordIrene Cara 5:14
2. "Out Here on My Own"  Michael Gore, Lesley GoreIrene Cara 3:09
3. "Hot Lunch Jam"  Michael Gore, Lesley Gore,
Robert F. Colesberry
Irene Cara 4:09
4. "Dogs in the Yard"  Dominic Bugatti, Frank MuskerPaul McCrane 3:16
5. "Red Light"  Michael Gore, Dean PitchfordLinda Clifford 3:08
6. "Is It Okay If I Call You Mine?"  Paul McCranePaul McCrane 2:42
7. "Never Alone"  Anthony EvansContemporary Gospel Chorus of the High School of Music and Art 3:21
8. "Ralph and Monty (Dressing Room Piano)"  Michael GoreMichael Gore 1:50
9. "I Sing the Body Electric"  Michael Gore, Dean PitchfordLaura Dean, Irene Cara, Paul McCrane, Traci Parnell, Eric Brockington 5:01
Preceded by
The Lexicon of Love by ABC
UK Albums Chart number one album
July 24, 1982 – August 6, 1982
Succeeded by
The Kids from "Fame" by The Kids from "Fame"

Home video

Fame was released on VHS in March 1981, by MGM/CBS Home Video.[34] In 1986, the distribution rights to the film were transferred to Ted Turner and his company Turner Entertainment, which acquired MGM's pre-May 1986 library of feature films.[35] Currently, the rights are owned by Warner Bros., after its parent company Time Warner acquired Turner Entertainment's library of MGM films in 1996.[36] The film was released on DVD on June 3, 2003 by Warner Home Video.[37] Special features for the DVD include an audio commentary by Parker, a branching video featuring interviews with Parker and several cast members, a making-of featurette, a short documentary on the High School of Performing Arts, production notes, and the theatrical trailer.[37] As a tie-in to the home video release of MGM's 2009 remake,[38] Warner Home Video released the film on Blu-ray disc on January 26, 2010; the film was also re-released on DVD.[39] The Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p high definition, and both home video formats contains all the additional materials found on the 2003 DVD release, including a CD "soundtrack sampler" that previews four musical numbers from the soundtrack album.[39]


Fame garnered awards and nominations in a variety of categories, with particular praise for its title song performed by Irene Cara. It received four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Cara), and Best Original Score (Gore). At the 38th Golden Globe Awards, the film only won one award for Best Original Song ("Fame").[40] At the 53rd Academy Awards, the film received a total of six Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Sound.[41] The songs "Fame" and "Out Here on My Own" both received nominations for Best Original Song; it marked the first time in Academy Awards history that two songs from one film were nominated in the same category.[42] The film won for Best Original Score, while "Fame" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.[41]

List of awards and nominations
Award Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result
53rd Academy Awards[41] Best Original Screenplay Christopher Gore Nominated
Best Original Score Michael Gore Won
Best Original Song "Fame"
Michael Gore (music), Dean Pitchford (lyrics)
"Out Here on My Own"
Michael Gore (music, lyrics), Lesley Gore (lyrics)
Best Film Editing Gerry Hambling Nominated
Best Sound Michael J. Kohut, Aaron Rochin, Jay M. Harding, Christopher Newman Nominated
38th Golden Globe Awards[40] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy ———— Nominated
Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Irene Cara Nominated
Best Original Song "Fame"
Michael Gore (music), Dean Pitchford (music, lyrics)"
Best Original Score Michael Gore Nominated
45th British Academy Film Awards[43] Best Direction Alan Parker Nominated
Best Editing Gerry Hambling Nominated
Best Film Music Michael Gore Nominated
Best Sound Michael J. Kohut, Christopher Newman, Les Wiggins Won


Three weeks after Fame's wide release in North America, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) announced that it was producing a television series, that would act as a spin-off of the film, and on December 12, 1980, MGM/UA Television Distribution had begun production on the pilot episode in New York City. The television series Fame, created by Christopher Gore, ran on NBC for two seasons, debuting on January 7, 1982 and ending on August 4, 1983. However, the series was renewed for first-run syndication in 1983, and continued to air for an additional four seasons. Returning cast members from the film, included Lee Curreri, Albert Hague, Gene Anthony Ray and Debbie Allen.[1] The series is notable for featuring early acting appearances from Janet Jackson, Fran Drescher and Nia Peeples.[44] Although he was credited as a "consulting producer", De Silva stated that he was fully involved with the series.[1][45]

The show's popularity, particularly in the United Kingdom, led to the formation of a music group known as The Kids from "Fame"; the main vocalists were Allen, Ray, Curerri, Valerie Landsburg, Erica Gimpel, Carlo Imperato and Lori Singer.[46] The band released two albums in 1982, The Kids from "Fame" and The Kids from "Fame" Again, which were largely successful in the United Kingdom.[47] The band members also went on tour, performing as their characters live on stage.[46] After the series was renewed for first-run syndication in 1983, The Kids from "Fame" produced three additional albums, The Kids from "Fame" Live!, The Kids from "Fame" Songs, and The Kids from "Fame" Sing for You—all of which proved less successful and resulted in the band members parting ways to pursue other projects.[46]

Following cancellation of the television series in 1987, it was announced that De Silva was developing a stage version of Fame.[45] Fame – the Musical was the first professional production at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida.[48] The show then ran at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from March 25, through April 29, 1989.[48][49] The musical has since had productions in more than 25 countries.[50]

In 1997, MGM Television announced that it was producing a second series inspired by the film.[51] Created by Richard B. Lewis, Fame L.A. focused on the lives of several students attending a drama and dance school in Los Angeles, California. The series featured Christian Kane, Roselyn Sánchez, William R. Moses, and Lesli Margherita in starring roles.[52] The series aired in syndication from October 19, 1997 to March 21, 1998; a total of 22 episodes were produced.[53]

In 2002, it was announced that MGM and Touchstone Television were developing a two-hour television film sequel to Fame that would be followed by a spin-off television series. Both projects were to be produced for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).[54] The television film was to introduce several students applying for positions at the New York City of Performing Arts, while the spin-off series would focus on their lives during their four years of attending the school. The series would feature new cast members as the young students, as well as those from the 1980 film, as well as updated versions of the songs "Fame" and "Out Here on My Own". Michael Gore was to act as an executive producer for both projects with his producing partner Lawrence Cohen, through their production label White Cap Productions.[54] Neither the television movie, nor its spin-off series were produced.[1]

In 2003, MGM Television produced a reality television series titled Fame, in an attempt to capitalize on the success of the largely popular American Idol.[55] The concept of the series involves discovering a "triple threat"—a person who can sing, act and dance and has a "bigger-than-life" personality. The show, co-hosted by Debbie Allen, and Joey Fatone, featured Carnie Wilson, Johnny Wright and JoJo Wright as the panel of judges. The series premiered on NBC on May 28, 2003, and a total of ten episode were produced.[56] The two competing finalists of the series were Shannon Bex and Harlemm Lee. Lee emerged as the winner of the competition, based on home-audience votes.[57]

In 2012, it was announced that MGM Television was producing a modern-day television series inspired by the film, with Nigel Lythgoe acting as an executive producer.[58] The project resurfaced in June 2015, when The Hollywood Reporter announced that MGM Television would be co-producing the series with A&E Networks for Lifetime, with Josh Safran attached as the show's writer and executive producer.[59]


Main article: Fame (2009 film)

In 2008, it was announced that MGM and Lakeshore Entertainment were co-producing a remake of Fame. Choreographer Kevin Tancharoen was hired to direct the film, based on an screenplay written by Allison Burnett.[60] The remake followed the premise of the original film, depicting the lives of several students as they attend the New York City High School of Performing Arts. Debbie Allen was the only cast member from the 1980 film to have a supporting role in the remake, appearing as the school's principal. The film was notable for its lighter tone, in contrast to the earlier film's gritty subject matter.[61] Released on September 25, 2009, Fame received generally unfavorable reviews from mainstream film critics.[62][63][64] It was a modest box office success upon release in the United States, though it fared better internationally, grossing $54.7 million worldwide.[65]

"Why bother to remake Fame if you don't have a clue about why the 1980 movie was special? Why take a touching experience and make it into a shallow exercise? Why begin with an R-rated look at plausible kids with real problems and tame it into a PG-rated after-school special? Why cast actors who are sometimes too old and experienced to play seniors, let alone freshmen?"

—An excerpt from Roger Ebert's review of the 2009 remake.[66]

Parker voiced his disapproval of the remake. He said, "I have never had a single phone call from anyone - the studio, the producers - about this remake. No-one spoke to me about it. To say so is absolute nonsense. I feel very much that Fame is mine. I spent months with the kids at the school then spent a year making the movie. You do the work and make it as good as it can be, and you try to protect it. Then, because the copyright is owned by the studio, as with almost all American feature films, they can do a remake like this. It's extremely galling."[63] In response, Tancharoen said, "[The producers] called [Parker] to tell him that they were going to remake his movie, and he was happy about it. He gave us all his blessings and just let us do it."[63] Parker later described the remake as an "awful" film.[4] Maureen Teefy said of the screenplay, "They're using the same formula, but it doesn't have the same substance. It's not staying true to the grittiness and authenticity of the original."[14] Barry Miller was also critical of the remake, stating, "I am not well-disposed towards the historical revisionism, culturally enforced amnesia and sociologically motivated erasure of my performance in a film that was profoundly important to me."[13]

Aftermath and legacy

Upon release, Fame was the last musical to be produced by MGM, before the studio merged with United Artists in 1981.[67] While only a modest success with North American audiences, the film was credited with reinventing the teen musical subgenre by adding dramatic elements into its story, echoing 1950s melodramas about young people struggling to find fame, fortune and romance.[68] Its presentation of musical numbers in the style of a music video—through the use of quick cuts with multiple angles and crowded, kinetic frames—was a major influence on other 1980s films in the musical and dance film genres, such as Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984) and Dirty Dancing (1987).[68] The film is also notable for inspiring the creation of many similar performing arts schools around the world—notably the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA)—[4][6] and popularizing the use of leg warmers.[69]

Fame and its title song helped propel Irene Cara to musical stardom. She recorded three solo albums and contributed to numerous film soundtracks, notably the song "Flashdance...What a Feeling"—the title song for Flashdance—for which she won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.[10] Paul McCrane, Barry Miller and Meg Tilly had steady acting careers after the film's release[13][70][71] while Ray, Allen and Curerri found success and popularity with the television series.[11][12] Allen has since won several Emmy Awards for her work as choreographer, started a dance academy and directed and produced numerous projects for film and television.[72]

Ray struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, and worked sporadically after the series ended in 1987. In 1996, he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and died from a stroke on November 14, 2003.[11][73] Fame was Christopher Gore's only original screenplay for a feature film. He was also involved with the 1982 television series as the show's creator, and wrote several episodes before his death from cancer on May 18, 1988.[74] The film's choreographer, Louis Falco, worked as a commercial choreographer, notably for several music videos and films.[75] He again collaborated with Parker on the 1987 film Angel Heart[76] before his death from AIDS on March 26, 1993.[77]

In 2004, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked the song "Fame" at #51 on its list of "100 Years...100 Songs".[78] In 2006, AFI placed the film on its "100 Years...100 Cheers" list, where it was ranked #92.[79] That same year, the film was a nominee for AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals.[80] The film also ranked #42 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Best High School Movies".[81][82] In 2014, IndieWire added the song "Fame" on its list of "The 20 Greatest Movie Theme Songs of the 1980s".[83]


  1. MGM released the film theatrically through United Artists, which is credited as a distributor in the film's promotional materials.[1]</ref>
    Release dates
    • May 12, 1980 (New York City)
    • May 16, 1980 (North America, limited)
    Running time
    133 minutes[2]Country United StatesLanguage English Budget $8.5 million<ref name='ProdNotes'>Parker, Alan. "Fame – The Making of the Film". AlanParker.com. Retrieved August 8, 2016.


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